Boots for the Calais RefugeesHelp Now!

Boots without Borders

New boots

A first-hand description of distributing boots in the refugee camp:

The amazing people working tirelessly on the ground know what the refugees need. And amongst a whole raft of other things, they need boots. Good ones, not unreliable, hard to work out if they fit, recycled ones.

A boot distribution is always a challenging one for the volunteer team.

I honestly think that if a van pulled up in any town's market square and invited people to queue for a freebie, many of us would accept a pair of boots! To try to work around this perfectly human response a token system is used. It is far from perfect but better than the alternative and it works there on the ground in what is a complex and ever changing community.So, it works like this - the volunteers visit areas of the camp where the most vulnerable people live and ask the refugees there if they need shoes. I spoke to one young man who replied, "I have boots actually and thank you."He didn't take a token but may have joined a line forming near where he stood, not knowing what it was distributing. These people have so little!So, if they need and want a pair, we hand them a token and arrange to meet them later that day.It's low key and mostly avoids a mad scramble as the line forms, which is then made up of people who have tokens.

This part is ok actually. Hard but ok. Obviously it's heartbreaking when a young lad or an older man, someone ill or injured, with totally inadequate foot wear doesn't have a token and can't redeem a pair of boots. But that's not the worst of it. This post is about what it feels like as a volunteer on distribution when the new boots, the ones in boxes run out. You see it's then we start to give out the old recycled ones. There's an implication of choice, an air of a jumble sale, as there's a hotch potch of different boots.The line slows down and it gets messy. People have already queued for ages and only want to make sure they take good boots which fit them. This is NOT an easy task and we can't offer a fitting service out of a back of a van, ankle deep in mud, or worse. The line, the sense of purpose and overwhelming feeling of gratitude starts to get infected by worry and fear, raised anxiety levels all round. Then it happens - someone tries to bring back a pair of boots that don't fit them to the front of the queue.The shout of 'line, line!" goes up. The Calais refugees self enforce the distributions from the back of a van keeping good humour and offering helping hands working side by side with the volunteers. But they do not tolerate jumping the line! A genuine attempt to return a pair of broken or ill fitting boots is easily misinterpreted. We can't stop and explain or slow down, we can't break the line, we can't offer another go or a second chance when some have not had even had one. There are so many waiting and order is everything. That and good humour.

You can't blame them either! They've waited for ages in the line, in the cold and all they want is a pair of boots that don't leak and do fit.Now things start to crumble very quickly. We have to apologetically say "no, no change" it starts to get confusing. What was banter becomes increasingly agitated and upset. The shouts of "line, line!!" from the refugees become more intense and frequent. Louder and more angry. It becomes frightening and then it breaks. It's heading towards chaos and with heartbreak, horror and shame we have to close the line. It's just too much, we are drawing the wrong kind of attention. Passions run high. We are putting these poor desperate people at risk. The van doors are closed and we walk quietly away into the crowd.

So much effort and good will has gone into trying to get desperately needed boots to these charming and resourceful people in the most appalling conditions. Yet they leave the line with nothing but disappointment and frustration. Worse, much worse - the van goes back to the warehouse still carrying the old, recycled, painstakingly sorted, lovingly donate. Old. Boots.

Ease of distribution and making sure the boots fit is key.

Please donate and help us to buy what they need - new boots.

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